RUSK – Little more than half an hour after entering into deliberations, a 14-member jury gave Rachel Barker of Rusk a life sentence in prison for the February first-degree murder of her husband, Jerry Barker.
Turning to her, 369th District Court Judge Bascom Bentley III told Barker he had tried “a lot of murder cases, and I don't understand” all that had transpired based on testimony given.
“Be as it may, you are sentenced to life in TDCJ and a fine of $10,000,” he said, later adding, “Ma'am, before I forget, you have a right to appeal.”
According to a press release from the DA's office, on the day of the shooting, “Barker shot her husband once in the chest while he lay asleep in his living room chair. Testimony revealed she did not immediately call for help, instead calling the father of a friend who told her she had to do the right thing.”
The release also noted that during the trial, both of Barker's statements to law enforcement were played for the jury: In the first, “she attempted to blame the victim for his actions, claiming he was horrible and abusive and drove her to her breaking point after telling her he wanted a divorce. As the jury watched and listened to the recording, Barker went into hysterics in her seat in the courtroom.”
In a second statement given to law enforcement agents two days later, Barker “admitted that her first attempt at explaining the murder was 'a big ass lie,' ” the release stated, adding that she then “told the detective her husband was her best friend and they were just playing around.”
In that statement, Barker claimed the shooting was accidental, the release stated.
As Judge Bentley read her sentence Friday, Barker, 52, sat stoically in her seat at the defense table. Later, however, when he dismissed the jury, she turned to look at the audience behind her, then briefly began crying as two women in the courtroom wept over the jury's decision.
In October, Barker waived her right to a jury trial after entering a plea of guilt in connection with the Feb. 26 incident, instead asking that a jury assess the issue of punishment only, according to court documents.
The three-day trial began Wednesday in 2nd District Court, months after Barker was arraigned for first-degree murder Feb. 27 and incarcerated in the Cherokee County Jail on a $500,000 bond set by Cherokee County Pct. 1 Judge Brenda Dominy.
When court convened Friday morning, Judge Bentley addressed the eight-woman, six-man jury with instructions for deliberations, reading from a sheaf of printed papers.
“You may take into consideration all evidence presented before you,” he reminded them, adding, “statements by the lawyers are not evidence.”
In closing statements, first assistant District Attorney Deborah Dictson told the jury “this trial is a little bit unusual … this trial is focusing on one particular question.”
Barker, she said, plead guilty to murder, an act in which she “intentionally and knowingly took the life of Jerry Barker.”
Testimony offered by defense witnesses “does not change the facts of the case,” Dictson said – that Barker, 76, was shot in the chest and arm with a double-action revolver found at the scene, a residence in the 9000 block of U.S. Hwy. 84 West in Rusk.
“He was a father, a grandfather, a brother, a son,” she said.
The Barkers had owned and operated a store in Dialville, according to a press release.
District Attorney Rachel Patton pointed out to the jury that during the trial, they heard different versions from the defense about what actually happened Feb. 26.
“This trial is about this,” she said, pointing to crime scene photos of the incident.
In assessing a sentence, Patton asked the jurors to not only consider the price the defendant was asked to pay for her actions, but to “then ask (themselves), when is Jerry Barker through paying the price?”
Defense attorney Allen Ross asked the jury to consider everything they heard during testimony to be able to “make the best, informed, moral decision you can make.”
The prosecution opened the trial Wednesday with a taped recording of the emergency call Barker made the day of the incident, in which a dispatcher's voice can be heard asking Barker questions as she engaged Barker in conversation while law enforcement agents were en route.
Throughout the taped conversation, Barker responds with “Oh, my God … I can't look at him” … “I can't believe I did this” … “Oh, God, what did I do?”
When the trial opened, several witnesses were called to the stand by the DA's office, primarily law enforcement agents called to the scene the day of the incident.
Ivan Pearce, chief investigator for the Liberty County District Attorney's Office gave testimony of a 1996 shooting incident when he was working as a sheriff's detective for the county.
The incident involved Barker, then legally separated from her husband, John Osborn.
According to the release, Barker's teenage daughter, Marsha, lived with the couple at the time, and “told her mother that she chose to live with her stepfather due to Barker's drinking problem.”
Pearce told the jury “that late the night before the divorce hearing, Barker drove to Osborn's house, parked the car down the street and walked up to the window outside the living room, the release stated.
“There, she put three bullets through the back of the recliner her estranged husband was sitting in, at least two of the bullets going through (his) head. She then left the scene, leaving her daughter, sleeping in the next room, to find John and call for help,” it said.
Barker pled guilty to attempted murder, receiving a 10-year sentence of deferred adjudication/probation in this case, the release added.